The Royals have made it two weeks into the regular season without having a bench-clearing incident, perhaps due to the fact they have yet to be hit by a pitch this season. Kansas City is no longer the lovable losers of the American League, having won back-to-back pennants, and the cute little story of the underdog done good has fallen to the wayside in favor of the Royals as the bad boys on the block with a target on their back.
The Royals have made some enemies the past few post-seasons, but do they have a rival yet? The criteria I like to use for determining a rival is - who would it kill me the most to see beat the Royals? Let's rank the potential rivals.
29. Chicago Cubs
The enemy of the enemy is my friend, and Cubs fans seem to be kindred spirits with Royals fans. When I traveled to Wrigley Field last summer, it was a love-fest between Cubs and Royals fans, bonding over a mutual dislike for the Cardinals and White Sox. Perhaps things will change if the Royals and Cubbies meet this October, but until then, Wrigleyville is like a second home for Royals fans.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates
I think a lot of Royals fans see the Pirates as small-market brothers-in-arms. Both the Royals and Pirates were laughingstocks for most of the 2000s, only to emerge to become serious contenders in recent years.
18-27. Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals
All random National League clubs that have no ties to the Royals. The Royals did face the Phillies in the 1980 World Series, but any lingering animosity has long died after two championships for the Royals in 1985 and 2015. The Marlins-Royals series is not a battle that stirs men's souls.
17. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay has had an American League franchise since 1998, but the Royals and Rays have never played for anything meaningful. Both were awful small market clubs for many years that have recently become good. The most contentious battle they have ever had is over who won the James Shields trade (we did!)
16. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners and Royals once shared a division, the American League West, but when the Royals were good, the Mariners were awful. Then they split into separate divisions, and the two have had such little animosity towards one another, we had to manufacture a rivalry of our own.
15. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have become more unlikable as they have become more successful, but still many Royals fans see them as a pleasant antidote to the evil Yankee empire. Even if you don't like the Red Sox, they have yet to do anything to really provoke Royals fans, except that awful singing of "Sweet Caroline" at games.
14. Texas Rangers
One of the best baseball brawls I can ever recall was when Brian McRae was plunked by a pitch, and instead of charging the mound, went straight to the opposing dugout to pursue Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy. Going into the opponent's dugout - that takes some chutzpah. Since then, however, the Royals have had little to quarrel with the Rangers.
13. Cleveland Indians
Despite playing in the same division, the Royals/Indians rivalry has been very low-key. The two were thrown into the same division in 1995, and since then have barely acknowledged each other, like an arranged marriage that never really worked.
12. Houston Astros
The Royals staged one of the more epic comebacks in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series against the Astros, a real gut-punch game for Astros fans. There was some chippiness between the two clubs, as the Royals did not care for what they perceived to be a throat-chop gesture by Astros pitcher Lance McCullers. The Astros are very new to the American League, so there hasn't been time to establish a rivalry, but with the Astros expected to be good for several years, we could get more October matchups.
11. New York Yankees
In the 1970s, the Royals/Yankees rivalry was among the best in baseball. They faced each other in the playoffs in four out of five season from 1976-1980, with the Royals victorious only in the final year. There are indelible images from that rivalry with Hal McRae barreling into Willie Randolph at second to George Brett engaging in fisticuffs with Graig Nettles (neither player was ejected for that!) And of course, they played the most bizarre finish to a game in some time - the Pine Tar Game. The rivalry really died in the mid-80s however, and the two franchises have not played a meaningful game since. It is easy to hate the Yankees, but this is not quite a rivalry.
10. Minnesota Twins
For years, Twins fans would make the drive down I-35 to Kauffman Stadium for the opportunity to see their gritty, successful Twins play outdoor baseball. Now with the opening of Target Field and a youth movement, their numbers have dwindled. The Twins were a bit of a rival - the two teams battled for the 2003 division title, and the Twins chased the Royals for the lead last year. But the rivalry has yet to reach a boiling point. With the young talent coming up in Minnesota, perhaps this is a rivalry to keep an eye on.
9. Los Angeles Angels
The Royals and Angels had a terrific rivalry in the 1980s, with the two clubs dominating the American League Western Division. Between 1976 and 1986, they combined to win nine division titles, including a thrilling race to the wire in 1985. The rivalry even spilled into the owner's box, with Ewing Kauffman accusing the Angels of buying their way to contention. The rivalry renewed a bit in 2014, when the two clubs squared off in the American League Division Series, with the Royals sweeping the Angels in three games. More recently, Yordano Ventura and Mike Trout had words in a game last April. Being in separate divisions makes a rivalry more difficult, but things have been chippy between the two clubs before.
8. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers won four Central Division titles before the Royals broke their streak last season. Detroit was down last year, but likely not out, after adding Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton on big free agent deals. Beating the Tigers in a James Shields start in September of 2014 was a huge confidence booster for the Royals that helped propel them to a post-season run. The two teams could very likely battle for the division this year, so although there is not much of a recent history, there are the seeds for a rivalry here.
7. Baltimore Orioles
The Royals have always struggled against the Orioles, losing 23 of their first 24 games against Earl Weaver's O's in their first two years of existence back in 1969-1970. Even though both teams were great in the 1970s, they managed to avoid each other in the post-season until 2014, when the Royals swept the Orioles in the American League Championship Series. That was a chippy series with minor controversies such as Jarrod Dyson's proclamation that the series would not return to Baltimore, and Orioles players upset at Jeremy Guthrie's t-shirt. The rivalry may have largely subsided since then, however football writers and Baltimore native Jason LaCanfora has certainly not let it go.
6. San Francisco Giants
It seems like Royals fans should hate the Giants more, after all, they kept us 90-feet from tying Game 7 of the World Series. Perhaps if the Royals had not won the championship the following year, there would be much more bitterness towards the team from the Bay. But mostly Royals fans were just thrilled to be in the World Series, and while there may be some dislike towards Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the feeling is more angry respect.
It is an even year, so perhaps the Royals and Giants can have a re-match and re-ignite the rivalry?
5. New York Mets
The most contentious matter between the two clubs prior to last October was the Mets fleecing the Royals in both the David Cone deal AND the Bret Saberhagen deals in the 1980s. But last fall, the two teams squared off to win their first championship in three decades. There were some fireworks in Game Three, when Noah Syndergaard announced before the game he had some "tricks up his sleeve", before sending a brushback pitch to Alcides Escobar on the game's first pitch, rankling the Royals.
Kansas City behaved, but the Mets seemed rankled the entire off-season, spreading rumors the Royals would try to retaliate when the two clubs met next April, and complaining about the scouting report that correctly indicated that Lucas Duda was a player to run on. The Mets had to stand and watch the Royals celebrate their championship on Opening Day, which could fuel a rivalry, and perhaps even a re-match this October.
4. Oakland Athletics
The A's were the team that once called Kansas City home, so their leaving already left a bad taste in the mouth of Kansas Citians. In the 1970s, both the Royals and Athletics were good, leading to some good Western Division battles. The two teams fought for the division title again in 1989, with Oakland's Bash Brothers coming out on top. In 2014, the Royals and A's played perhaps the best Wild Card game ever, with the Royals staging an amazing comeback.
There may have been some lingering bitterness the next year, when Brett Lawrie slid hard into shortstop Alcides Escobar, causing benches to empty. The Royals would retaliate the next night, and in the rubber match on Sunday, Kelvin Herrera would be ejected after sending a pitching flying behind Brett Lawrie. Because of the transient nature of the Oakland ballclub, it is difficult for a rivalry to take hold - Brett Lawrie, Jeff Samardzija, and Jon Lester are all gone already. But the city of Oakland has made for an easy rival for Kansas City thanks to the Chiefs/Raiders rivalry, and the green and gold has always made Royals fans see red.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Royals became the first team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a League Championship Series in 1985 when they stormed back against the Blue Jays en route to their first championship. Thirty years later, the two teams would meet again in the LCS. Josh Donaldson, a key part of the A's team the Royals defeated in the Wild Card the previous season, carried the Blue Jays team.
But the key villain of this series was Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, infamous for his controversial bat flips. Bautista proceeded to complain at every umpire's call he disagreed with, and even taunted Royals fans. Royals fans howled in delight when Bautista misplayed a fly ball in right, leading to a big inning, then seemed to throw his own teammate under the bus. If there was a mustache-twirling bad guy in the Royals' storybook, Jose Bautista would be it.
2. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox and Royals have played few meaningful games against each other - the Royals briefly challenged the White Sox for the division in 1993 - but there does not appear to be good will between the two clubs. Royals fans still remember the awful attack by two rowdy White Sox fans on first base coach Tom Gamboa over a decade ago.
The two teams had a bench-clearing brawl last year, with Jeff Samardzija throwing punches, and Chris Sale attempting to get into the Royals clubhouse. Samardzija is gone, but the White Sox now have - guess who? Brett Lawrie. Chicago's all-black uniforms make it easier to see them as the villains, but it will probably take both teams being good at the same time to produce a full-fledged rivalry.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The fans across the state dressed in red are enough to drive Royals fans nuts. The proximity, of course, is a big part of any rivalry, and having Cardinals fans sprinkled across the state - even among us- can cause a great deal of friction. And there is, of course, lingering resentment from the 1985 World Series and Don Denkinger's controversial call in Game 6 and the epic meltdown the Cardinals had in Game 7, led by manager Whitey Herzog. It is a bit of a one-sided rivalry - after all, the Cardinals' main rival is the Chicago Cubs. But the fact Cardinals fans have to constantly write "its not a rivalry!" articles tells you one thing - it is a rivalry.
What really drives the rivalry is the pomposity of Cardinals fans on being the self-proclaimed "Best Fans in Baseball." Somehow, being the fan of a team that is a perennial contender is the sign of a good fan, while a half-empty stadium to see a team lose 100 games is the sign of a bad fan. Of course, the exact opposite could be argued, that the fact any fans that stuck around to see a terrible team shows their loyalty, while it is easy for any bandwagon fans to come out and see a winner. But try telling that to a Cardinals fans after he asks what high school you went to.
The Cardinals do have a rich history, and they have won three championships since the Royals came into existence, as opposed to just two for the Royals. Most of their fans really are great, and I am friends with many that don Cardinals red. In a way, the rivalry is like having an older brother who brags about his accomplishments all the time. Still, few things would please me more than to see that team endure the decade of awful baseball we had to sit through.
Oh and one last thing - Orta was safe!